Welcome to the 1% club!
And lucky for you, the 1% club is open every day of the week, 24/7. There’s VIP bottles and velvet ropes.
Make no doubt - this is the place to see and be seen! But please be forewarned … There's a really tough bouncer to get into this place. In fact, this bouncer is a vicious beast of a tyrant that only lets the coolest of cool people in the club.
That bouncer is ...
Huh? That’s right. The 1% club is reserved for the upper echelon of the arts, business and everything else. And that’s what I’m calling my new club … and you’re invited. In fact you always had a ticket!
So, why do I call my favorite new VIP venue the 1% club? It’s based on the incremental 1% differences you can make in your songs, recordings, mixes etc.
And why exactly should you care about your additional 1% (or even fractional percentage points) of increased perfection?
This is why.
As the brilliant Seth Godin said in his post, “Hardly Worth The Effort” (please read this brilliant piece from 2010) - everyone else is already busy doing the 90%. WHAT YOU GET PAID FOR is taking your piece of music, songwriting, master, mix to the last 5% and yes, ultimately to the last 1% of perfection. It’s also what I call the “Max Martin Mindset” (because this is why Max and others who are in this mindset, are the best in the world).
You see - everyone’s busy doing the “up to 90% job.” Taking things 80-90% of the way there (including 99% of all the transient songs that just showed up on your New Music Playlist).
Writing is easy.
Rewriting and perfecting is hard. And that’s just one of the many reasons why we’re going to talk about how to write a better chorus - your last chorus to be precise!
So this is the beginning of a series of posts (the 1% Club posts) on how to squeeze out the last 10%, 5%, and yes ultimately, the last 1% out of each of your songs.
Now, you might not think it makes much difference taking your song from say, an 87% to an 88%. But what if you could chip away, sculpt and yes, SWEAT out another 10 (ten) additional 1% points of quality in your song. You know - making that tweak there, adding that little hook there, spending another ½ session on getting just the perfect lyric line, etc.
Suddenly (no matter how long it takes) - you now have a song that might have started as a solid EP or album cut - and now, maybe it’s now a single contender. Or maybe you started with an awesome song that was flagged as a “single” - and now, after you’ve run the gauntlet of incremental % increases - you have a song that will pay you dividends for the next 10-20 years In other words, you got a hit or perennial song / copyright.
So let’s get started on our 1st “1% Club” post … which is all about your last chorus. This is where, I’m going to be honest, most of you (whether I know you or not), just get lazy.
And there’s a term that I love for this “last chorus mentality,” and I picked it up from Jeremy Dawson of Shiny Toy Guns and MXMS (MXMS are on my label and publishing roster).
Jeremy was working on one of my favorite MXMS songs - I thought it was good to go - but Jeremy said “You know - I don’t think we have our 3rd act yet.” I said “3rd Act?!” “What do you mean, Jeremy? - We’re not doing Shakespeare here.” But it turns out - we are, if you’re passionate about your art.
The 3rd act is essentially, of course, your 3rd and last chorus.
This is the last statement that you and your song are allowed to make to your audience Now, you can either go “out” with a languid copy / paste effort (which is what 90% of people do) .. .or you can advertise to the world that you're special and you care.
This is your opportunity to step and say “My 3rd act is the shit and so am I!”
“PAY ATTENTION TO MY ART!” Aka - “I’m a professional!!”
Yes, this is the place, like or unlike the The Fabulous Stains quote, “Don’t you wanna be a professional?,” where we want to show our attention and dedication to craft and excellence.
Now, if you want to get into the 1% club, elevating your last chorus and putting something extra special here - is a great way to gain entry and get your name on the VIP list. In fact, one of my favorite publishers and producers, Steve Lindsey regularly touts that some of the biggest copyrights in the world - often have the best morsels of hooks come in on the last chorus.
Or as the Troggs once infamously said shouted to each other while arguing in the studio “We’ll put some fairy dust on the bastard and I’ll piss over the tape.” (NSFW)
I know what you’re thinking - that’s great - maybe there’s an idea there - making incremental improvements to your song to the next level. But when it comes to writing a better chorus, specifically your last one - what can I do to make that last chorus bigger and better?
Well, I’m so glad you asked. Here are just a few ideas for a great “third act.”
1) For starters - please, step back from the [control + c / control + v] buttons. You’re way better than copy / paste. And sure, you can / should copy / paste the “backbone” of your 3rd chorus using copy / paste - but this shouldn’t be all you do here! Keep in mind also that before ADATs (8 track digital audio tape / whereby copy/pasting was achieved by sampling and digital triggering your parts and digitally recorded onto tape) … that musicians / artists / bands - would actually perform the entire song - including, of course the last chorus! I know that sounds like another universe - but there was no copy / paste function in 1978. So yeah, there were slight variations just to begin with - all the instruments, vocals and background vocals had to be originally recorded!
2) Vocal Ad Libs - this seems like a lost art these days - and it might have something to do with a lack of amazing singers - but the 3rd chorus is a great place for you to “blow!” Yes, blow. “Blow” is a musician term for “show us your shit.” Meaning - impress us! Show off your vocals. In fact, maybe your vocal adlib becomes an additional vocal hook on its own!
3) Make a 2nd hook on the chorus as an overlay! This is a great place to make another 2nd melody or a vocal hook, bg vocal part, shouts, oohs / ahhs, new vocal hook with new lyrics, call and response vocals, etc.
4) How about a fresh / new post chorus hook after the very last chorus? Wait, what? Last chorus - we’re done, right? Not so fast! Here’s a great example, and I’m proud to say, as a publisher back in the day at EMI Music, I actually put together the writing team for Natasha Bedingfield’s classic “Unwritten.” Check out what happens after the last chorus. Kapow! Best NEW hook of the song!! Yup. (the “oh ohwayeeeoh…” vocal part).
5) New instrumental hooks! Yes, maybe it’s a new part or even a “moment” or that extra special sound that comes in. You might not think that little spontaneous musical element you put in there counts for something, but it does! Let’s look at one of the best songs of the last 10 years from Mark Ronson and “Uptown Funk.”
Let’s dive in. What do we hear in the third act? What’s different? Ahh, I’m hearing new horn lines, new “performance moments,” some new bass line variations, high energy drum fills and tons of 2nd melodies going on here that’s just a powerhouse of energy and hookdom!!
6) Volume Ride! This is a little trick but I rarely see or hear it being implemented anymore. You can actually elevate (across your entire master) a +1 DB overall volume level on your last chorus (or any chorus!). That’s right - a small almost nonperceptible increase in volume. It might almost be unnoticeable - but trust me - it’s a 1% you can add. People’s brains will notice.
7) Modulation! Modulations are so old fashioned and out of style - that they might actually sound fresh. And what is a modulation? Let’s say the key of your song is G major and your 1st chord of the chorus is also G Major. A modulation means that you’re doing a key change. Usually the key change will be a ½ step or a whole step higher. This means instead of your last chorus being in the key of G and your 1st chord being a G Major - that you elevate and shift the key and energy of the song to Ab Major. Aha! New energy. You can do this either through a build in your bridge and “lead” your listener to a new key change through some crafty harmony moves … or you can do a direct modulation where you just slap your listener in the face with a new key change. Kapow! For more on modulations in songwriting - I’d love to turn you on to an amazing song, “The Gambler” by Kenny Rogers. As the story builds and evolves - Kenny Rogers takes you through a new key change every verse/chorus … I love it.
8) New lyrics! Yes - maybe give your listener some new lyric variations in the chorus! I mean usually the #1 rule of the chorus is to be repetitive - but you could always throw in some new tasty lyrical variations, depending upon the vibe and lyrical context.
9) New Effects - this might be a time to try out some new effects - try some special vocal effects or something a little unexpected. (I’m always a fan of a phaser haha).
10) As Morpheous once said to Neo in “The Matrix,” - “Stop trying to hit me and hit me!!” To emulate this … please witness one of my favorite songs and productions of all time, NIN “Closer.” For me, there are about 100 lessons in this 1 song. Also, please note this is a NSFW lyric so, pass if you are offended. Well - I embedded this where the lyrics are done anyway - so it doesn’t matter : )
Now you could say that - where this video starts (at 3:12) isn’t a chorus at all, but I beg to differ. Trent could have stopped the song here and “Closer” would still be a classic. But, No. There’s another 3 minutes of dark art intensity and build that happens, which is just ecstatic. And this for me, is a big reason why this song is not just a great song, but a masterpiece. Just listen to that additional 3 minutes from when the chorus actually ends (!) and embrace all the 1% elements Trent is adding. I swear there’s probably 7-8 hooks going on at the same time in some places.
At the end of the day - you know what I’m saying here. When it comes to your last chorus - don’t be boring! Please - don’t do just a lame copy / paste job! Because - as I’ve said before - You’re better than that.
Give us something extra. Go for the extra credit.
This is your “Bonus Time” to reward your listeners with extra hooks, extra energy and the signal - that you care about perfecting your song and craft. You’ll instantly stand out and it’s the equivalent of you raising your hand and saying: “I’m in this to win it - I went for the extra distance - and I want my work to stand the test of time.”
Another way to look at this - you're not just making votes for your song to be a winner, you’re making votes for yourself. So, cast yourself a vote FTW!
On that note, if you enjoyed this post and songwriting tips on writing a better chorus (your last chorus in particular!)- there will be more “1% Club” pieces to follow.
I’ll see you inside the club at the bar, and let’s catch a drink (if they have it on the top shelf … I’m preferential to a McAllan Rare Cask).
Let’s toast to our future success and wins.
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